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U. of I., DePaul and Northwestern cancel in-person classes due to coronavirus

The Illinois schools join the University of Wisconsin, Notre Dame and a wave of other schools that have told students they will not be taught in person after spring break.

Students at the University of Illinois at Chicago Wednesday react to the news that in-person classes will be canceled.
Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

The University of Illinois, Illinois State University, DePaul and Northwestern all announced plans to suspend in-person classes Wednesday amid concerns about the coronavirus.

The schools joined a wave of universities and colleges across the country — including Notre Dame and the University of Wisconsin — that announced they would halt face-to-face instruction.

In an email to the nearly 90,000 students and staff at all three U. of I. campuses — in Chicago, Urbana-Champaign and Springfield — officials said there has been no confirmed cases of coronavirus among faculty or students. But they said they were going to halt in-person classes in an effort to help curb its spread.

“Courses at each of our three universities will immediately begin migrating to online or alternative delivery mechanisms to provide the social distancing that helps limit transmission of the virus,” the letter said.

All classes will be remote by the time students return from spring break, which runs Saturday through March 22. University officials have not determined when in-person classes might resume.

“Online and other alternative learning methods will continue until further notice, but our expectation is that it will be temporary and students will be updated regularly via email and updates on system and university websites,” the email said.

The campuses, including dining halls and residences, will remain open, and faculty will continue to work in their normal locations.

On-campus finals nixed at DePaul

DePaul canceled all winter quarter final exams that were scheduled to be held on campus this week and next. The school said “students will hear from their faculty about any changes to their final assignments.” It also postponed or nixed all university-sponsored events on or off campus.

For spring quarter, “whenever possible, classes will be delivered remotely,” the school said.

Illinois State President Larry Dietz announced Wednesday evening in a letter to the ISU community that spring break, which was set to end this weekend, would be extended to March 23. Once classes resume, they’ll all be moved from in-person to online courses at least through April 12.

All university housing and dorms are closed effective immediately, and those living in university-owned apartments “should return to their permanent home residencies,” Dietz said.

Northwestern’s spring break will be extended one week until April 4 and then classes will be conducted remotely for at least three weeks.

“University leaders will reassess the situation by April 17 and decide then whether to continue remote teaching or to return to in-person instruction by April 27,” the school said in a statement.

Students raise concerns

College students at the UIC campus Wednesday said they expected the cancellations to happen, but also said they were worried about doing all their coursework remotely.

Julie Wong, a 21-year-old nursing student at UIC, said she would be able to do much of her work online, but worried she would miss out on working at a hospital and interacting person-to-person with patients next semester.

”That’s really only hands-on, so I hope it doesn’t interfere,” Wong said.

All the students said that catching coronavirus was low on their list of concerns, though some said they feared for older relatives if the number of cases in Illinois continues to go up.

Liz Avery, 21, a biology major at UIC, had hoped UIC wouldn’t suspend classes — but fears it could be worse, if the rumors she heard are true, if the school cancels the entire semester if things don’t get better.

”If we were in Seattle, or something, I would understand more,” she said, “but we don’t have that many cases here. Right now, I’m not too concerned, but who knows what will happen.”

Purdue, Minnesota also cancel classes

Other major universities in the region, including the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of Notre Dame, Purdue University and the University of Minnesota all told students Wednesday that in-class instruction will be suspended when students return for break later this month, for nearly two weeks. Nearly 3,500 students from Illinois are enrolled at UW this semester.

Notre Dame officials said no cases of coronavirus had been reported on their campus, but said “the probability that it will spread to our region is high” in a letter to the school’s community reflecting on their decision.

At UW-Madison, officials said they would move all in-person courses online starting March 23, the date that classes would normally resume after next week’s spring break, until at least April 10.

“While there are relatively few confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Dane County, the number of cases nationally continues to grow. Our health partners tell us that now is the best time to act in ways that slow the spread,” U. of W. officials wrote in a letter to students Wednesday.

Officials at Purdue University, however, said the in-class instruction would be suspended starting Thursday, according to a letter Chancellor Thomas L. Keon, but would likely resume through April 4.

Purdue also cancelled events or meetings of more than 25 people on campus to try to limit potential exposure of coronavirus in large groups. University of Chicago officials made a similar decision earlier this week, saying that university sponsored events of more than 100 people would be suspended and that officials may impose audience limitations at planned arts and sporting events.

All of the schools said that their campuses would remain open to faculty and to students if needed, though U. of W. officials said they were “particularly concerned about the safety of students in our residence halls who share bathrooms and eating facilities and live very closely together.”

The university acknowledged that not all students would be able to return home and that the recommendation presented particular hardships for international students.

“We recognize that some students may be unable to return to their permanent residence for various reasons and will need to stay in their residence halls,” the university wrote, including, “international students will not be able to return home at this time; some students may be unable to access online classes in their home location; some may need to stay in Madison for other reasons.”

Any travel by students over the break also presents the schools with new considerations.

Nearly all warning school community members to avoid non-essential travel over spring break; if they do travel, especially to a country with a high risk of exposure as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they may face a requirement to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

School were trying to find the best balance for students while also trying to provide up-to-date information — including creating coronavirus-specific pages on their websites — and telling students to be prepared for sudden developments.

In a letter to students, the Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, noted the quickly evolving nature of the pandemic would be a factor in the school’s response.

“In coming weeks and months the disruption caused by this epidemic will demand a lot of each of us,” Jenkins wrote.